These days, nothing perturbs this Dodger fan more than watching a Charlie Haeger start. No offense to Charlie Haeger but everything he does in super slow motion, from his windup to his knuckleball which tends to go high and away for 3-ball counts, which inevitably leads to two leadoff walks in just about each inning. Joe Torre tends to have a good deal of faith in Haeger and given the dearth of pitching options the Blue Crew have been left with since Randy Wolf left town (Ramon Ortiz? Russ Ortiz? Jeff Weaver?), he wasn’t truly the worst option filling in as the #5 starter. Aside from a jittery first start against the Mets, John Ely got my attention when he struck out seven Brewers through 6.2 innings in a no-decision and did not allow a walk. I won’t lie, it sort of bummed me to see Ely sent back to the minors when Jeff Weaver was activated, but with Haeger sidelined, it was a fine opportunity to see Ely could build off a rather impressive outing against the Brewers. Since then, Ely has only outdueled Dan Haren and baffled a rather anemic Astros lineup. The impressive thing? John Ely has not given up a walk to the last 84 batters he’s faced. Keeping things in further context, he has struck out 21 batters in a little over 19 innings since his debut, which seems like small potatoes compared to a streak of 84 straight batters faced without a walk.
Before we anoint John Ely as the next Fernando Valenzuela or Hideo Nomo, Ely doesn’t have truly outstanding stuff, as his fastball usually tops out in the high 80’s. However, he makes up for it in a big way in location and decent movement in his off-speed pitches, with his best pitch being a plus changeup. Based off a short sample, Ely has a 1.61 FIP, 2.94 xFIP, and a .307 BABIP which is a few points above league average. Even though his current pace is likely unsustainable (especially with the strikeouts), it doesn’t seem like his opening stretch is a total fluke either. Based on his short minor league career, Ely has been known to induce grounders, which does bode well in possibly holding down a rotation spot. In short, Ely is worth the speculative add, so let’s huddle around the campfire while enjoying a few tales from The Book of John Ely, shall we? Now, if only he can cure Andre Ethier’s pinkie finger in the same way he’s treated Kobe Bryant’s bum knee.
*Stats as of Tuesday, May 18
Jose Bautista – Last 2 Weeks: 14/47 H/AB, 13 HR, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, .298 BA
If I didn’t know any better, I’d hazard to guess that all the concession stands at the Rogers Centre in Toronto are Baskin Robbins stands, seeing how the Toronto Blue Jays seem to have 31 flavors of the week in stock. John Buck is fantasy baseball’s third most valuable catcher (in Yahoo of course) and a couple of weeks ago, I highlighted Alex Gonzalez’s hot streak (which has fizzled a bit since then). Now it’s Jose Bautista who has emerged as the en vogue flavor of the week and has even drawn comparisons to being this season’s Ben Zobrist. The 30 year-old Bautista has shown middling power on limited at-bats over his last four seasons. With 11 home runs under his belt for the year, he is set to double his average home run total over those previous four years at his current pace. There isn’t any drastic change to single out with Batista, as far as his batted ball rates go, except for the fact he’s been hitting more flyballs (48.2% FB, 18.5% IFFB, 20.4% HR/FB) at the expense of a current career-low groundball rate of 36.6%. Supposedly, it’s all a matter of better pitch recognition that has played a big factor into Bautista’s power surge, but like my advice on Gonzalez a few weeks back, I would ride out Bautista’s hot streak and expect nothing more for the time being. Bautista’s BABIP tends to be on the low side, given that he’s far from being a prolific line drive hitter while his contact rate is more or less on career average (which happens to be league average) and his infield fly rate is a bit on the high side. Nonetheless, he’s worth the add if you need some immediate offense to plug in.
Vladimir Guerrero – Last 2 Weeks: 20/54 H/AB, 11 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 1 SB, .370 BA
Most times, aging DH-only players don’t get a fair shake from fantasy managers in general, but the surging David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero should be given a second look. One had to wonder that a full season at DH in Texas could do wonders to keep Vladdy relatively fresh ; after a slow start, he has slugged five of his seven home runs over the past two weeks while pulling his average on the year to a healthy .340 clip. Even at 35, Guerrero has maintained the reputation of being one of the better “bad ball” hitters in the league, chasing half of the time on pitches outside the strike zone but making up for it when he actually puts the ball in play. Apparently, Vlad has displayed more pull tendencies of late, which has boded well for his ISO and while he’s likely a ways away from even the vintage Vlad that put on an Angels uniform (circa 2004-06), he’s still in a great position hitting cleanup for a potent Rangers lineup that has recently gotten Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz back in the fold.
Alex Rios – Last Month: 29/87 H/AB, 19 R, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB, .333 BA
Quite honestly, I was going to mention Shane Victorino’s name in red, only because I’m man enough to admit I was wrong about his fantasy fortunes a quarter into the season (and for that matter, Alfonso Soriano has surprised nicely too). While Denard Span has played up to expectation, he is nowhere close to outpacing Victorino in being the better value. Then, I remembered about touting Alex Rios in the very same 2 Up, 2 Down, which has spared me a few blushes I suppose, and instead, I shall gloat about Rios’ better than advertised success. For the year, Rios’ stat line reads out like a Matt Kemp alternative, having slugged seven homers on the season and more surprisingly, is the dozen of stolen bags on the side. As I said a couple of months back, Rios’ nightmarish 2009 was due to a sub-par line drive rate (16.4% LD) and related to that, a terribly low .247 BABIP. For the year, Rios’ LD rate stands at a healthy 20.4%, back at career norm and his BABIP isn’t too far off his career average at a .321 clip. Also of great help is a reduction in strikeout rate (13.2% K from 18.4% K in 2009). Thus far, Rios is producing like a second rounder for a mid-draft pick and even if he falls a bit off the pace, he’s still magnificent value and looks like he’s a more than decent bet for a 25/25 season or something close to it.
Johnny Cueto – Last 2 Weeks: 22.0 IP, 2 W, 23 K, 1.64 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
After a rather drab April, Johnny Cueto has strung together three quality starts in May and remarkably, he is still owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues (as of this writing, 47% ownership). Cueto’s strikeout rate has perked up noticeably over this stretch, which includes a one-hit complete game shutout of the offensively challenged Pirates, only to follow it up with seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Brewers last Monday. There aren’t many changes to highlight in his batted ball rates and pitch selection, as they remain relatively constant, but it’s his inroads in his walk rate that holds promise. Cueto has had only two outings in which he allowed three or more walks, lowering his BB/9 to just a 2.39 BB/9 clip. Cueto’s fastball velocity on average is up a bit, at 93 MPH, which could be partially responsible for that modest jump in his K/9, to go along with his plus slider. The 24 year-old Cueto still has some room for improvement in being more aggressive in working counts, but overall, it seems like he could be gaining traction in taking the next step.
Scott Baker – Last Month: 30.2 IP, 2 W, 31 K, 5.87 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
Personally, I haven’t figured out quite why Scott Baker carries an annual cult following by some fantasy folks as the year’s breakout pitcher. Not to say I don’t believe in Baker’s ability when he provides a nice WHIP boost given his reputation for being stingy with the free passes, but he’s a flyball pitcher by nature and doesn’t have truly outstanding stuff to emerge as a strikeout-intensive pitcher. However, just like I mentioned about Gavin Floyd two weeks ago, Baker is a pitcher I’d look to buy for a discount, if possible. Like Floyd, Scott Baker is a textbook example of a pitcher getting hit hard by some terrible luck (.342 BABIP, 68.3% LOB) due in some part to a 24.7% line drive rate. Baker’s pitch selection and velocities seem relatively unchanged, except for a modest hike in his curveball, which has also gained a near 2 MPH tick. Nonetheless, he is still showing a strong outside whiff rate of nearly 35%, a stellar 2.01 BB/9, and a 3.60 FIP/3.65 xFIP for the year.
Dan Haren – Last Month: 39.2 IP, 3 W, 42 K, 5.45 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
Likewise, we can chalk up to Dan Haren’s uneven start to sheer bad luck: .357 BABIP, 66.9% LOB, 3.56 FIP/3.22 xFIP. These numbers should be indicators of better days ahead for the D’backs ace, but this has to be a bit disenchanting, given that Haren typically experiences a predictable late-season lull, the same kind he is experiencing currently to begin the year. Simply put, I’d say Haren’s baffling start has to do with bouts of inconsistency. Admittedly, I’ve seen only one Haren start and that was against the Dodgers, in which he managed to strike out nine Dodger hitters in three innings, but from then on, the Dodgers figured out something the second and third turns around the order. Haren kept throwing strikes, but hittable strikes which were taken for either doubles to the gap or flyballs, and only managed one strikeout in the next three frames. Haren has relied more on his cutter, an 8% change from last year while he has had some struggles in locating his splitter. Is Haren still worth buying on? Absolutely. His stuff is still fantastic, as evidenced by a 36% O-Swing and a career-low 73.9% contact rate. I would let history be my guide, however, and ship him off after the All-Star Break, but all in all, you’re probably getting two months’ worth of stellar outings from Haren, which will no doubt help you out in ratios and in strikeouts.
Adam Lind – Last Month: 21/109 H/AB, 12 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .193 BA
While the likes of Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, and Alex Gonzalez have powered the Jays’ offense, Adam Lind has labored of late, as his ISO has reverted back to pre-2009 form. The noteworthy point to pick out with Lind’s struggles is his strikeout rate of a little over 29%, which is about an 11% increase from last season. That said, Lind shouldn’t be regarded as a flash in the pan just yet, as he needs to whiff less in order to get results. When Lind has put the ball in play, he is sporting a relatively low .275 BABIP, which is more than 35 points below career average. The 26 year-old Lind has still maintained a decent HR/FB rate of 14% which of course is a ways away from the career-high mark of 19.8%, but a bounce back should be in order for the Jays’ DH.
Gordon Beckham – Last Month: 12/82 H/AB, 8 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB, .146 BA
I’ll spare you the lousy jokes of comparing Gordon Beckham’s batting average and his ISO to Victoria Beckham’s figure, but the White Sox second baseman has been a greater disappointment than David Beckham getting (wrongly) red carded in a ‘98 World Cup second round match against Argentina. At the moment, Gordon Beckham is being benched here and there, with even some murmurs of being possibly sent down to the minors to work out a few kinks. Like Lind, the thing that stands out most is his whiff rate of 23.4%, but his league-average outside swing percentage and decent contact rate suggest that he hasn’t been completely clueless; even his walk rate is nearly two percent higher from last season. Perhaps the pressure that comes with hitting at the top of the order has gotten to Beckham and with a relaxed approach, he still stands a good chance of cutting back on the strikeouts and lifting a terrible .233 BABIP upward.
That will about do it for me this week. Sorry, no line drives again this week, as I’ve been busy with a ton of things, as usual. Our Kiwi friend is back next week and until then, be champions.
True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan who while searching for a Gordon Beckham picture to embed in this column, found a pic of Gordon Ramsay and David Beckham sitting front row at a regular season Laker game. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, consultant, and is skittish to see The Book of Eli, claiming that Giantsfan14 gave it a perfect 10 rating.
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